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A critical part of Ian’s role, in Airside Operations, is dispersing and scaring away birds. Birds are a hazard on the airfield as they can cause serious damage and major safety incidents if they fly close to aircraft – particularly near the engines. The impact of a bird coming into contact with an aircraft is referred to as a ‘bird strike’.
‘Airside Ian’ enjoys the bird spotting element of his role and said:
“I think some people would find it boring, but for me it’s really fascinating and enjoyable identifying and safely moving the birds on."
He continues "During lockdown, the amount of runway bird runs and inspections actually increased in-between aircraft movements as it was so quiet, so more birds were settling.”
Team Heathrow colleagues put a large amount of precautionary measures in place to prevent birds from settling near the airfield in the first place. These include netting off areas of still water, ‘bird proofing’ surrounding buildings and infrastructure and even keeping the airfield grass at a length that deters birds (150-200mm long). These steps mean that, when birds are encountered on the airfield, every measure has been taken to discourage their presence.
Did you know that airfield grass is kept at 150mm – 200mm (6-8 inches) as this length deters most birds?
There are always two Heathrow colleagues on duty, 24 hours a day, dedicated to patrolling for birds near the runways and surrounding areas. If spotted, the correct dispersal method must be used to increase the chances of moving them on successfully. In order to know what this is, Ian and the team have excellent knowledge of the various species of birds. There can be very subtle differences between species and so it takes a trained eye to notice the various features that differentiate one type of bird from another.
The vehicles used by airfield operations are fitted with an electronic system called ‘Digiscare’. It is pre-programmed with the distress calls for a variety of birds. Once the bird species is identified, the correct sound is played through speakers, attached to the roof of the vehicles, to move them away. On the rare occasions that this doesn’t work, a cartridge gun is used which produces a loud sound without a projectile, to scare the birds away.
Even with all of these measures in place, there are rare occasions when a bird strike is reported.
Find out more about bird scaring at Heathrow.
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